As readers of this blog know, boat owners are required to provide a vessel that is seaworthy. That is the law in Alaska and throughout the United States, and when they do not, they are responsible for the injuries that result. Indeed, in a recent blog post, we posted about vessel seaworthiness. And, in this post, we will expand on other factors that make a vessel unseaworthy.
For background, Section 7.6 of the Jones Act mandates that vessel owners must maintain and provide seaworthy vessels. This is their duty that they cannot delegate to anyone else. This has been explained in several cases, including Ribitzki v. Canmar Reading & Bates, Ltd. Partnership, 111 F.3d 658, 664 (9th Cir. 1997), and Havens v. F/T Polar Mist, 996 F.2d 215, 217-18 (9th Cir. 1993).
Not just about the ship itself
However, this duty to provide a seaworthy ship is not only about the ship itself but also applies to the appurtenances that are needed to operate the ship. This includes everything that is needed to maintain and operate the ship in proper and good operating condition. The failure of any piece where there is not an ability to fix it can be enough to establish unseaworthiness according to Lee v. Pac. Far E. Line, 566 F.2d 65, 67 (9th Cir. 1977).
No guarantee of no accidents
However, the Anchorage, Alaska, ship that is provided does not need to be clean. It does not need to be accident free. And, the fact that an accident does occur does not, itself, prove that the vessel was not seaworthy. Indeed, owners have no absolute obligation to furnish accident-free ships according to Mitchell v. Trawler Racer, Inc., 362 U.S. 539, 550 (1960).
The crew also matters
Another key is the specific crew. The crew that the vessel owner provides can affect whether the vessel is seaworthy. A defective crew can mean a defective and unseaworthy ship. In Pashby v. Universal Dredging Corp., 608 F.2d 1312, 1313-14 (9th Cir.1979), the court noted that a violent or assaultive crew could very well make a vessel unseaworthy.